Jan 24, 2020
ByMayor Patrick Slayter
The baseball player Ted Williams was a notoriously grumpy man; he was prone to ignore ovations and accolades. He rarely tipped his hat or took a bow and was, most likely, an introvert ill-equipped to handle the limelight. What was it like, Mr. Williams was asked in an interview, to be the only .400 hitter in baseball year after year.
The answer is one I always remember, “Being a .400 hitter means that I fail more often than I succeed” Mr. Williams replied. How you deal with failure, he said, is much more important than how you deal with success. Anyone can deal with success, he added, but very few have an easy time with failure.
That, he said, is what life is all about. You fail as much, or more, than you succeed. Strikeouts come much more frequently than home runs and it is important to remember this in order to deal with life as it really is, rather than as people might think it to be or want it to be.
A favorite quote of mine scrawled on a scrap of paper at least three decades ago and stuck with a dog-shaped magnet to a toolbox in my shop reads, “blaming others is no way to get better”.
It’s easy to get caught in a spiral of negative thinking; we have a regional homeless crisis with few good options; retirement obligations are significant; the climate crisis is overwhelming; not enough money to maintain our roads, parks and schools.
How to feel about these things? Can we accept these unbudgeted and intractable things as an inevitable part of life’s successes and failures? Anger and pity focused on people, activities and situations accomplish nothing. Lament, panic and loathing are not only ungainly, they are also a waste of time. Blaming others is no way to get better.
A much more useful tact is to find one small thing that can be accomplished towards finding a solution, and do that thing. Then, find another small thing and do that thing. Houses aren’t built in a day, but they are eventually completed, one small step at a time.
The City of Sebastopol has some challenges, but, like building a house, we are working on them with measured, steady progress. Funds are being accumulated from a variety of sources to continue maintaining and improving our roads. A number of housing projects are being discussed, some with delight and others with dread, but that’s why the public process is the way it is; everyone gets a chance to speak. The aging underground water utilities serving all residences and businesses in the City require maintenance and upgrades, and the City has developed a long-range plan to provide for adequate funding of these vital systems.
Understanding how the City government operates allows for positive, issue-oriented activism. Knowing the steps needed for approval of, for example, a new mixed-use development allows residents to be effective, helping to curate our community towards a desired outcome. Steps for the development example include preliminary hearings, public comments, professional analysis of impacts and eventual formal hearings and decisions by official bodies using all the accumulated knowledge, opinion and legal and regulatory guidance. Infrastructure projects, the annual budget, the inner workings of the Sebastopol Police and Fire Departments, and all City operations have logical, reasoned processes that may seem opaque at first blush. It is important to continue working to maximize resident’s understanding of City operations; knowing the City is working on many projects, long term and short term, one small task at a time, with the final outcome much greater than all the small parts.
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